Kings and Queens of Baseballtown
Dick Gernert, 2005
Dick Gernert was born in Reading on September 28, 1928 and rose through the amateur baseball ranks at Northeast Junior High, Reading High, Gregg Post American Legion and Temple University, where he also lettered in basketball.
After signing with Boston (AL) and spending two full years in the minors, he began his 11-year Major League career in 1952 with the Red Sox, taking over at first base when Walt Dropo was dealt to Detroit in early June. As a 23-year old power-hitting rookie, Gernert made an immediate splash in Beantown. Despite hitting only .243, he slammed 19 homers (tenth best in the American League) and drove in 67 runs. He wound up leading the Red Sox in both HRs and RBIs even though he totaled just 367 at-bats.
The following season Gernert continued his slugging ways by smacking 21 round-trippers, which tied him with Mickey Mantle for seventh best in the American League. Once again he led the Red Sox in long balls and also boosted his batting average (.253), RBIs (71), runs scored (76) and walks (88). On June 18, Gernert was involved in a major league record when the Red Sox sent 23 men to plate and tallied 17 runs in the bottom of the 7th in a 23-3 win over Detroit. He hit a three-run homer, walked to drive in a run and scored twice in the 48-minute frame.
After missing most of the next two seasons (he played a total of 21 games) due to illness, Gernert made a comeback in 1956. Now splitting his time between first base and the outfield, he set a new career-high with a .291 batting average while contributing 16 home runs and 68 RBIs in 306 at-bats. His home run percentage of 5.2 equaled that of his outstanding rookie season.
The next year he returned to being primarily a first baseman. Though he found himself hitting cleanup behind Ted Williams on opening day, his production fell off in all major categories by year’s end. But 1958 would see Gernert’s offensive numbers rebound as he reached 20 home runs for the second time in his career while knocking in 69. It was also a banner year for him in the field, as he led all American League first sackers in putouts (1101), assists (93) and double plays (118).
Though his power stats had improved, Gernert’s batting average had hovered at .237 in both ’57 and ’58, and by 1959 he was sharing his first base duties with another first baseman from Reading – the left-handed hitting Vic Wertz. In 298 at-bats, Gernert hit .262 with 11 home runs and 42 RBIs while Wertz batted .275 with seven homers and 49 runs knocked in. In November that year, the Sox decided to give the position to Wertz on a full time basis and traded Gernert to the Chicago Cubs.
To that point in his major league career, Gernert had been a member of Boston teams that usually played better than .500 ball and resided in the middle of the AL pack. 1960 brought a change for the worse, as both the Cubs and the Tigers, to whom he was traded in August, finished well below the break-even point. Between the two clubs, he hit .267 but only had one four-base swat in 146 at-bats.
In May of 1961, Gernert was dealt again, this time to Cincinnati. While Detroit did a complete about-face from the previous season and churned out 101 victories, the move to Cincy would still turn out to be a fortunate break. Though the Reds won only 93 games they captured the National League pennant, while the Tigers triple-digit win total only bought them an eight-game deficit as the Yankees easily took the junior circuit. Used as a reserve for the remainder of the season, Gernert still contributed to the Reds’ march to the World Series, batting .302 in 40 games after the trade. He also got a chance to pinch hit in four of the five Series games against New York but did not get a hit as the Yanks won it, four games to one.
In 1962, Gernert was picked in the expansion draft by the Houston Colt .45s. Houston’s first year in the league would also be Gernert’s last. After appearing in just ten games for Houston, his big league career ended that May. He finished with a lifetime .254 batting average, 103 home runs, 402 RBIs and 357 runs scored.
Gernert would hang on professionally for another couple of years. He caught on with the Pacific Coast League’s Tacoma Giants for the remainder of the ’62 season and hit .289 with 20 homers and 68 RBIs. His final playing days would be spent back in Baseballtown with the Eastern League’s Reading Red Sox in 1963 and 1964, where he hit .283 with 24 home runs and 125 RBIs in 182 games.
In 1969, Gernert began a brief managerial career with Wytheville of the Appalachian League, leading the Senators to a 31-35 mark. Tabbed to manage Pittsfield of the Eastern League in 1970, he was reassigned to the American Association’s Denver squad in mid-season, taking over for Reading native Whitey Kurowski. Denver would win the West Division with a 70-69 record, but fall to Omaha in the championship series.
Gernert continued to work in baseball throughout the 70s, serving as a scout for the Reds, Senators and Rangers and a first base coach for Texas. In 1978 he was hired as director of player development for the New York Mets, holding that position for three years. He returned to Texas as a scout and national cross-checker from 1981-85 and then ended his baseball career with the Mets as an advanced scout from 1986-2000. In 1994, Gernert was inducted into the Reading Baseball Hall of Fame.